The Return of Ecoporn

Big companies take their message to the airwaves

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In 1970, just in time for the first Earth Day, Friends of the Earth and Ballantine Books published The Environmental Handbook, which eventually sold more than a million copies. I had a short chapter in there titled Ecopornography, or How to Spot an Ecological Phony. The idea was to try to help people recognize what we might call greenwashing–image ads from big companies that gloss over, lie about, downplay, or otherwise sweep their environmental crimes under the rug.

All I can say is that I hope it worked, because there’s more ecoporn being spread around now than ever before. Much is by energy companies arguing, for example, that coal is good for you and me, ditto nuclear power, and so on. A relatively minor one caught my eye last night.

A good looking fellow in jeans and t-shirt–clearly a union kind of guy–says that’s he’s buy-American all the way. His car is American, and his appliances, everything. So imagine how pleased he was to learn that virtually all the natural gas used in the U.S. "comes from under our feet." Later, he or the voiceover says that almost all the gas we use comes from North America, which isn’t all in the U.S. last time I looked. In fact, the U.S. gets 14 percent of its gas from Canada, which accounts for about half Canada’s production.

According to a report in the Energy Bulletin natural gas production in the U.S. peaked in 1973, and reached a second but lower peak in 2001. Which makes me wonder about the ad’s tag line: America’s New Natural Gas . There’s nothing new about it, and the supply is finite. As I said, this particular ad is fairly benign compared with ads from the coal industry, for example, but it’s incumbent on us to pay extra close attention when ads like these turn up. Chances are they’re aren’t quite what they seem to be.


Tom Turner literally wrote the books about Earthjustice during his more-than-25 years with the organization. A lifelong resident of Berkeley, CA, he is most passionate about Earthjustice's maiden issue: wilderness preservation.